Chocolate Date Bars

Chocolate date bars (already 2 missing!)

Chocolate date bars (already 2 missing!)

Hashi’s Halal Market on Killingsworth and Vancouver in Portland was not the great resource I was hoping it would be, but I did find what I was looking for. I’ve long since run out of dates from Saudi Arabia, even after stuffing my luggage full. Hashi’s little shop only had a couple of kinds of dates–not the choice from among dozens of varieties I was hoping for.  Hashi himself didn’t seem to be on site; just a woman selling incense burners and perfume behind the counter of the dingy shop. I left with a box of medjool dates that turned out to be from Algeria.

Dates in Al Balad

Display of dates in Old Town Jeddah, Al Balad

After oil, dates are Saudi Arabia’s most important export. Until I saw for myself, I had no idea were so many varieties, sizes shapes and colors. Dates can be classified from sticky-soft to semi-soft to dry. They are very nutritious and a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium (more than bananas!), iron and other minerals. They are important culturally too, and the daily fast during Ramadan is typically broken by eating dates.


Dates, whole and pitted.

During the time we were in Saudi Arabia, I nearly ate my weight in dates. They make a great desert just as they are, especially when you serve several varieties, and they’re especially good stuffed with nuts. Of course they’re wonderful covered in chocolate.

The gooey fruit filling in this recipe amplifies the chocolate, making these seem a lot more decadent than they are. I’m positive they’re quite healthy.  Give these a try, and you’ll find yet another reason to love dates.

Cooking dates

Cooking dates

Chocolate Date Bars

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
1 t vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Butter an 8 x 8 inch pan.
Combine chopped dates and water in a small saucepan and simmer until the dates have cooked to an applesauce-like consistency. Depending on your dates, this could take 30 min or so. Don’t stop cooking dates until they are reduced to a saucy mix; you don’t want these at all watery. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add vanilla.

Chocolate date bars before going in the oven

Chocolate date bars before going in the oven

While the dates are cooking, combine the dry ingredients except chocolate chips. Add butter to dry ingredients and use your fingers to blend everything together. Spread half the oat mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan and press into place. Spread cooked dates evenly over the oat base. Distribute the chocolate chips over the dates then sprinkle the rest of the oat mixture over everything and press the topping smooth with your hands. Bake for 40 minutes or until slightly browned. Slice these shortly after they come out of the oven. They are good hot if you can’t wait!

Chocolate date bars

Chocolate date bars are great heated and served with ice cream or all alone

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Living and Working at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

View of Harbor and Apartments

Student apartments on the harbor

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is a long name, so in referring to the new university, people often shorten the name and say “KAUST.” The university is located about an hour north of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second largest city. The feat of KAUST’s creation is remarkable in so many ways, from the “open campus” where men and women attend classes together to the speed at which the university itself sprang up from the sandy shore near a fishing village on the Red Sea.

Upon the completion of the rapidly built university, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud declared:

“It is my desire that this new University become one of the world’s great institutions of research; that it educate and train future generations of scientists, engineers and technologists; and that it foster, on the basis of merit and excellence, collaboration and cooperation with other great research universities and the private sector”

Administration Building at KAUST

Administration Building at KAUST

KAUST Campus
The university is set up in the manner of a large, meticulously maintained campus. Beautiful landscaping–trees, bushes, flowers. Large sculptures, attractive buildings. Double security gates protect the property, and you have to show credentials to enter. I would guess there are probably more Saudi residents at KAUST than any other nationality, and there are people from other Arab countries, Europeans, folks from China, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. On campus, many women wear a traditional abaya and many men wear thobes. Of course I always wore western-style dress, as many others do.

Amy in Al Balad

Shopping in Al Balad

I wanted to give the details on dress right up front because a lot of people are curious if I “had to wear [the abaya]…” The answer is that I never wore an abaya on campus but lots of women do because it’s what they’re most comfortable in. When I left the campus I always expected to wear an abaya. Going to Jeddah and so on. For the record, I never got the feeling I was being worried over in terms of what I was wearing, and I rarely wore the hijab (head scarf).

KAUST Facilities and Amenities
KAUST is the size of a small city. There is a really nice golf course, and of course this is a country where there aren’t too many golf courses. There are two separate workout facilities (men’s and women’s). Three pools and counting. There’s a beach with palapas and sailing, a movie theatre–something you normally don’t find in Saudi Arabia. There’s a lending library besides the academic library. A scuba operation. Very cool setup. A few restaurants, only one of which was really remarkable, but then I’m an amateur food critic. The notable restaurant is at the Golf Club where the chef prepares special dishes from his native Shri Lanka along with the standards.

Academic Library

View of the Harbor and the Beacon from inside the Academic Library

At KAUST, not everything works exactly like you would expect it to, but sometimes it’s good to see that there are other ways. We had a lot of laughs over the way things are done there as opposed to how I might expect, but isn’t that the appeal of the exotic?

I plan to write a few more posts on the experience of living at KAUST. If you want to ask any questions or comment, please click the “comment” link below and I will try to answer.

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Saudi Arabia, Social Media and Sesame Seeds

On campus at KAUST

On campus at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

This blog is about more than JUST cooking and recipes. I am dedicated to many other schools of thought besides the enjoyment of cooking, eating and planning what to eat next. While it’s easy for me to talk about food, I have lots of other interests: marketing, business, economics, politics, health. I’m a runner, a dog owner, scuba diver. I speak passable Spanish, I’ve traveled a little, and have lived in Saudi Arabia. Although shorter than expected, my time in Saudi Arabia is an experience I’m going to write about here since a lot of people are curious about that, and it was such an interesting experience.

Social Media vs. Traditional Media
I’m mentioning my multiple interests because this blog is going to have a lot of food content, but my career field is actually marketing. Social media is a new frontier in marketing that business owners are scrambling to understand. Both what it is and how they can harness it. Unlike traditional media that is pushed from one source (whether that’s print, web, broadcast), today businesses want know how to take part in social media so they can pull intelligence, feedback and participation to grow loyalty and strengthen their products and services.

As you read the recipes and accounts on this blog, you can think of it as my personal social media. Food is social. Recipes are social. It’s a very good fit. And it’s much more interesting than me writing about the four P’s of marketing. So, on to sesame…


Halva with pistachios

No Wonder It’s the Password
As we know from Ali Baba, sesame is the key to riches. Halva, which I ate all too often in Saudi Arabia is a loaf of sesame-tasting candy. It can also be made with semolina, but the kind I’m talking about is made with sesame paste and sugar. Cut into slices and served, it’s even better when it has pistachio nuts.

I haven’t run across any halva recently but I did find a stand-in: sesame seed cookies! This  recipe makes a crisp and delicious cookie. I think it came originally from Martha Stewart and I got it from my sister-in-law.

Sesame Crisps
1 cup sesame seeds (divided)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/ cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 350. Toast sesame seeds on a cookie sheet 10 min, stirring often and watching continuously. Do not walk away from the oven. Set toasted seeds aside to cool completely.

In a medium bowl cream together butter and sugars. Add egg and vanilla, and mix until combined. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix to combine. Fold in 1/3 cup of sesame seeds and mix.

Using your fingers, pinch off small bits of dough. Roll in your hands to make 3/4 inch balls. Roll these in remaining sesame seeds and roll again in your hands. Place at least 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes.

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Oh Honey! Roasted Garlic Green Beans

Making Honey at the Schoonover's

When Bill and I left our house in Salt Lake, I had to give up all of my condiments and sauces. Along with everything else I gave up, I gave my North Carolina honey to a good friend. The honey was kind of special because I had met the bees who made it.

Friends Mike and Chris Schoonover were kind enough to give Bill and me two new quarts of honey on our return to the states. I’m now using it to make these roasty, sticky, garlicky beans. I thought for sure honey on a 450 degree tray would burn but it doesn’t. I’ve made these lots of times over the summer and I made them today to go with flank steak and miso soup with udon.

bee keeper

The Bee Keeper's Assistant

Roasted Green Beans Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Preheat oven to 450. Combine in a bowl and toss:
1 pound green beans, snapped
1 T olive oil
kosher salt and pepper

Line baking sheet or sheets with foil (to minimize mess only if you want to)
Distribute oiled beans evenly over baking sheet. Roast 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir to combine in small bowl:
3 or more cloves of garlic, coarsely minced
2 T. coarsely minced ginger
1/4 cup honey
red pepper flakes to taste

Roasted Green Beans with Honey, Garlic and Ginger

These are all about the caramelized garlic and ginger

Remove pan of beans from oven after 10 min and spread honey garlic mix over all. Return pan to oven and cook 10 to 12 minutes longer, tossing once or twice with tongs to promote even browning. Great as a side dish for Asian meals or any time you want a vegetable side with some personality. You’ll be surprised how easy and delicious this recipe is.

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Honey Carmel Pineapple Inspired by She Craves

Pineapple on the brain. I have been thinking about pineapple since I came across this recipe on She Craves. I wanted to try it soon before it slipped my mind.

Basil at Fred Meyer was pathetic-looking so I passed on that opportunity and got in line behind a guy buying several large cans of dog food and a 18 pack of Bud Light. I thought to myself that maybe I shouldn’t always talk to people in the checkout line when he wouldn’t stop talking about the breakfast cereal we share an interest in. 

I picked my brother up at work and he took me to Anzen, an Asian market here in Portland, Oregon and I got a better deal at least. The basil there wasn’t all that hot either, to tell the truth, but enough good leaves I could make it work. We got some other things too: miso paste, fried fish cake, udon noodles. So that stop wasn’t only about the basil.

I thought the recipe came out great though I will try for saucier next time. I think it was supposed to be more saucy. Here was my reward for just a little effort. Carmelized, gooey, rich and tropical, and I found the scent of the withered fresh basil comforting. Frankly I could use a little comfort right now, and this was just the thing.

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